Quick Tips for Coral Cactus Care

Coral and cactus in name only, the Coral Cactus (Botanical name: Euphorbia lactea Crest or Euphorbia lactea ‘Cristata’), combines two succulent plants to form one fan-shaped plant consisting of a crest (the coral-shaped part) and a cactus root (the Euphorbia neriifolia) underneath it.

A cultivated succulent originating from India and Sri Lanka, it now grows naturally in many tropical and sub-tropical regions. Other names for the Coral Cactus include the Candelabra Plant, Crested Elkhorn, and Crested Candelabra Plant.

An unusual-looking plant featured in many cactus gardens, the Coral Cactus resembles a large coral with crinkled, cabbage-like leaves. The leave edges may be purple, green, ruby, white or yellow with pink.

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Coral Cactus Facts

The quirky-looking Euphorbia lactea Crest adds flair to any garden. The more conservative plant fanatics in your life may even ask “What is that thing?” The Coral Cactus only grows to about two feet high so that you can place it almost anywhere in your home or garden.

Arrange the Coral Cactus in container gardens or on window sills with Kalanchoe, plants, Cactus and Paddle Plants. This plant can be grown outdoors year-round in U.S.D.A. growing zones 10 and 11 and in the summer in more moderate climates.

While not as spiny as regular cactuses, there’s still potential for accidents. All parts of the plant contain toxins, so be careful when moving the Coral Cactus or doing any work on it (or around it).

Here’s a quick video, “Euphorbia lactea crest “from the California Cactus Center YouTube Video Channel with some information about the plant

Planting and Propagating Coral Cactus

Coral cactuses rarely become potbound. Repot them only when necessary. It’s best to check the plant as soon as you get it home from the store or nursery for signs of inadequate potting, soil or bound roots. If you discover any of these conditions, transfer the plant to a slightly larger pot with good drainage.

Propagate your plant with cuttings in the spring. Dry them out for a few weeks before potting them. When removing from the original container, keep the root ball in one piece. Dig wide holes in the soil, not deep ones and spread roots outward. Pack the area around roots with soil.

Avoid getting Coral Cactus sap on your skin or in your eyes. It’s poisonous, so you’ll need to wear gloves and protective eyewear. If you have pets or small children, locate your Euphorbia lactea Crest plants in a safe place, like on a high shelf or an off-room.

Grafting a Coral Cactus

  • To graft your own Coral Cactus, you’ll need a Euphorbia neriifolia plant and a Euphorbia lactea plant. Take the following steps:
  • Make a V-shaped cut at the bottom of the Euphorbia lactea’s crest. Make sure the cut curves outward.
  • Cut the Euphorbia neriifolia’s root stock in a V-shape. The cut should curve inward.
  • Place the two sections together, so they fit together firmly. Cover the joint with grafting wax. (This stops the plant from getting too dry.)
  • Tie the plant together with twine to keep pieces together until it heals.

The graft should heal in two to three weeks. If not, re-wax the plant joint and replace the rope. Be careful not to disturb the plant during the re-waxing process.

New growths will form from your Coral Cactus graft. Cut them off, dry them for a few weeks, and then pot them. Plant the saplings. If you’re lucky, they’ll naturally form crests.

Soil and Fertilizer

Use cactus potting soil, which prevents roots and stems from soaking in water and rotting. A cactus soil mix has better drainage than regular potting soil. Some store-bought mixes contain peat, which absorbs moisture. If the peat dries out, the soil turns dry, and the plant suffers.

If commercial mixes aren’t to your liking, make a homemade cactus soil mix. People in arid climates will benefit from adding more peat to their mix, as long as it doesn’t completely dry out the soil. Other possible combinations include five parts potting soil, one part coir (coconut fiber) and two parts pumice. Coir makes an ideal ingredient for a cactus soil mix, as it has a balanced pH.

Fertilize the Euphorbia lactea Crest during its growth stage, in the summer, spring and fall. Use any regular-strength household plant fertilizer.

Temperature and Lighting

The Coral Cactus likes sunshine and warm temperatures, just like genuine cactuses. Its temperature threshold isn’t quite as high as desert cactuses, but it’s higher than many other houseplants. Position the plant in direct or indirect sunlight in temperatures between 60 degrees and 80 degrees. Any combination of full to partial sunlight during a given day will help your plant grow. You don’t need to leave it in bright sunlight all day. When you move an indoor plant into your yard, increase its light exposure. Too much bright sunlight too soon will burn Coral Cactus leaves.

Provide the Coral Cactus with shade and indirect sunlight in high temperatures. Rotate the plant, so it gets sunlight evenly on both sides, or else it will grow lopsided.

Here’s a look at an outdoor Coral Cactus in a large pot in “My Coral Cactus Vid” from the James Suozzo YouTube Video Channel


The Euphorbia lactea Crest likes well-drained, moist soil. Check topsoil with your finger or a pencil. If the top two to four inches are dry or the “cabbage” leaves droop, water the soil while avoiding the foliage. Wet thoroughly, until water runs out from the bottom of the pot.

Over watering can kill the Coral Cactus, so checking the plant’s soil is more important than keeping a regular watering schedule.


Precautions and Problems

Although the Coral Cactus has its charms, its toxicity deters many people from owning it. Planting the Euphorbia lactea Crest in certain areas may put local ecosystems at risk. The plant also releases toxic latex that may cause eye irritation, dermatitis or temporary blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes or skin, and vomiting or nausea if eaten.

Photo by Leonora (Ellie) Elking licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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